For crime aficionados, New York Times best-selling author Marcia Muller is always a welcome name, one to rely on when you want a sure thing—a book that captures the imagination and might even make you wish you’d cancelled your evening plans so you could just go on reading. Her latest, The Night Searchers—to be exact, number 31 in her San Francisco-based Sharon McCone series—promises to be that kind of book.
Muller is quick out of the gate with a catchy plot hook: A weird couple seeks help from PI McCone’s detective agency because the wife is “seeing things.” As husband Jay rolls his eyes and pats her shoulder, wife Camilla describes witnessing devil worshippers operating from the basement hole of a city excavation, possibly conducting a human sacrifice. The canny, pragmatic McCone intuits that something more than mental instability is at work here, and sure enough, the unlikely scenario soon begins to tie into an investigation underway by RI International, the firm run by McCone’s husband, Hy, a high-level hostage negotiator. McCone and Hy discover a non-Satanic connection between Camilla’s sighting and the titular Searchers, a shadowy bunch of treasure hunters prowling the ’Frisco streets, and with the kidnapping of the director of a political policy forum.
Hy and McCone dispatch researchers and operatives from their companies to connect the dots and discover what, besides treasure, the mysterious Searchers may be hunting, and how it may tie in with kidnappings and devilish conclaves. McCone becomes the suspect in a supposed murder attempt and hides out for a while in a safe house aptly called Cockroach Haven while directing the investigation. The story sports Muller’s usual mix of eccentric characters, not least the Searchers themselves, all with fake names containing the letter “Z.”
The McCone and RI agencies seem to have the power to do almost anything, from calling up the troops to calling off the troops, and the action never stalls. But this time around, Muller’s narrative has a choppy feel to it, jumping from one thing to another and occasionally losing its focus and our attention. The couple’s too-spiffy upscale lifestyle has also become a bit wearing, and readers will miss the old days when McCone operated out of the All Souls Legal Co-op and scavenged around for her daily bread. We are amply compensated, however, by the captivating tour of San Francisco sights and sounds that’s woven throughout the book.